A new policy letter from the U.S. Coast Guard provides a transparent pathway for U.S. vessels operating in the offshore energy sector to participate in disaster recovery activities, says the Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA) representing more than 140 companies operating in the sector.
The Policy Letter, which was issued September 29, provides guidance for when and under what circumstances and conditions the USCG will consider equivalencies and exemptions so that domestic offshore energy vessels, such as highly-capable offshore supply vessels (OSVs), can participate in disaster recovery operations and provides a pathway that vessel owners should utilize to request such equivalencies and exemptions.
“This is a great example of our partners in the U.S. Coast Guard working with industry to provide common-sense solutions so that American mariners can be utilized to help their fellow citizens,” says OMSA Director of Regulatory Affairs, Michael Heier.
The new guidance was issued one day after the Department of Homeland Security issued a “temporary and targeted” Jones Act waiver allowing a foreign tanker to deliver 300,000 barrels of diesel that was loaded in Texas to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, several Louisiana-based energy vessels attempted to carry cargo to Puerto Rico or between ports within Puerto Rico. While it was apparent that these vessels were capable of safely completing the required tasks, many were turned back due to strict or differing interpretations of USCG regulations.
Following Maria, the OMSA proposed that the USCG utilize its industry advisory committee, the National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee (NOSAC), to study how offshore energy vessels could be safely utilized to provide disaster assistance. This led to NOSAC producing a report entitled, “Use of Offshore Supply Vessels (OSVs) and other vessels in restoration and recovery efforts,” which made numerous recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard on the use of OSVs in disaster response.
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While the policy letter guidance is neither a substitute for applicable legal requirements, nor a rule, it represents the Coast Guard’s current thinking on the topic and may assist industry, mariners, the general public, and the Coast Guard, as well as other Federal and state regulators, in applying statutory and regulatory requirements.
“Unlike the unlawful, unhelpful, and unnecessary Jones Act waiver issued by the Biden Administration to BP, the USCG Policy Letter is a great example of a lawful and truly helpful step that the government can take to help disaster victims. Furthermore, it is an example of a step that honors American mariners and shipyard workers as well as the companies that have invested in U.S. vessels,” says OMSA President, Aaron Smith.
“Much like we have seen in their opposition to the American Offshore Worker’s Fairness Act, oil majors will say and do anything to avoid using U.S. vessels and crews if it means they can make a buck,” Smith added. “Instead of enabling their exploitation of the American public, I hope the [Biden] Administration will take more actually helpful actions, like the recently issued Policy Letter, and fewer actions which don’t help those in need while simultaneously harming American mariners.”
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